Policy-making and Evidence: The Evidence is Never Enough

by Rick Austin August 27, 2013 04:09 PM

I sat in last week on a webinar sponsored by the Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (KTDRR).


KTDRR is the latest iteration of knowledge translation research sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), part of the Department of Education.


Their webinar focused on using plain language in research summaries. The leader, Merete Konnerup, admitted that plain language summaries are a small cog in a large, unwieldy knowledge translation machine.


Working with the Campbell Collaboration in Denmark, Konnerup is particularly focused on the use of systematic reviews as a resource and tool for policy makers at all levels. She spent a good amount of time during the webinar talking about the theoretical underpinnings of the National Research Council’s (NRC) 2012 policy paper, “Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy.”


She emphasized NRC’s focus on studying the mechanics of policy argumentation and the psychology of decision-making. Despite this emphasis, the underlying assumption of both her talk and the ensuing questions and follow-up discussion was that good research yielding good, supportable conclusions was sufficient unto itself for policy-making. It’s a start, but it’s not enough by itself.


I’ve blogged several  times recently about this issue, and how the real world of self-interested politicians and politically motivated institutions can impede our progress if we don’t take politics and self-interest into account.


This is an aspect of knowledge translation that needs to be added to any discussion of KT and policy-making. What do you think?

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Come See Us in Atlanta!

by Shannon Rasp August 8, 2011 12:47 PM

Research Into Action will present a panel discussion at this week’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM) in Atlanta, Georgia. The panel, “The Knowledge Translation Divide: What’s the Canadian Secret?” will feature David Phipps, Ph.D., from ResearchImpact in Toronto and Pimjai Sudsawad, Sc.D., from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in Washington, DC.

They will debate the merits of knowledge translation as it is done in Canada, and whether KT practitioners in the USA can learn anything from Canadian practice. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Stephen Linder, the principal investigator for the Research Into Action project.

Senior Communications Specialist Rick Austin will be tweeting regularly from the conference and will be live tweeting during the presentation. Follow him on Twitter (@ktexchange) for the hashtag.

The NCHCMM is hosted annually by the Centers for Disease Control, and is attended by faculty, researchers, students and professionals in public health, health communication, and social marketing. The conference runs Aug. 9-11 and Research Into Action will present its panel at 12:45 on Thursday, Aug. 11. If you are attending the conference, please come join us. You may even get your very own Winston-approved t-shirt!

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Today: A Guest Blog Entry From David Phipps of ResearchImpact

by Rick Austin August 3, 2011 11:16 AM

David Phipps is Director of the Office of Research Services at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

Today’s guest blog will cross-post tomorrow on David’s website, ResearchImpact.


Public Benefits from Public Research

I have been invited by the University of Texas School of Public Health, Research Into Action project, to the Centers for Disease Control
National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media to debate the position that Canada has a knowledge translation secret. I look forward to this discussion with Stephen Linder (The University of Texas School of Public Health), Pimjai Sudsawad (Knowledge Translation Program Coordinator, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research), and Rick Austin (Research Into Action project), because I get to brag about Canada and our KT successes.

We’ll start from the (debatable) position that Canada has a KT secret. There is an evidence gap here. There are also excellent examples of KT from around the world. Nonetheless, there is a widely held perception that our KT secret has resulted from (or resulted in) public investments in national KT institutions like the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, Canadian Partnerships Against CancerMental Health Commission of Canada, and Canadian Council on Learning, all with a KT mandate. Canada also has ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), the only national network of university knowledge mobilization units in the world (to our knowledge).

For argument’s sake, let’s accept that Canada has a KT secret – the question becomes why? Canada has a strong history of public institutions. Compared to the US, Canada has less private health care and fewer private options for education from K-12 to higher education. Using General Expenditures in R&D (GERD) as a metric, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that Canada’s public sector invests relatively more in R&D than does Canada’s private sector. On June 28, 2011 Canada’s
Science, Technology and Innovation Council released its report on Canada’s innovation performance in 2010.  The report recognizes that “Canada's overall business expenditures on R&D lag behind international innovation leaders. These numbers are trending down when they should be trending up.”

Since Canadians invest proportionally more public funding in R&D and likewise have fewer private options in health care and education, I propose that Canadians expect a return on their investments in public research so that research benefits policy and practice in health and education as well as in other sectors. That’s the Canadian socially democratic model.

If this is true, so what? How can we translate this to other jurisdictions? How can other countries create an expectation of public return for public investments in research?

The US did this in 1980. The
Bayh Dole Act created a national standard for technology transfer (that other university knowledge transfer) that was predicated on a demand for a return on public investment in university research. Overnight the Bayh Dole Act created the US technology transfer profession that has grown into a leading technology transfer market. Technology transfer is a recognized profession with international associations like the Association of University Technology Managers, standards, accreditation, and established tools and metrics. The knowledge transfer/translation/mobilization industry is in its infancy by comparison, with haphazard experiments in KT service and only an emergent scholarship on the science of connecting research to use. Following international scholars like Sandra Nutley and Carol Weiss, Canada has a growing cadre of scholars, a few emerging graduate programs and established leaders such as Carol Estabrook, Jonathan Lomas, Réjean Landry, John Lavis, Ian Graham, Jeremy Grimshaw, Ben Levin, and Andreas Laupacis, to name just a few, who have developed national and international reputations as KT researchers. Is there similar bench strength for KT science in the US?

Given that Canada invests in KT science and service, what can other jurisdictions do to derive public benefit from public investments in policy and practice relevant research?

The US needs a social Bayh Dole Act. A social Bayh Dole Act would require that universities make investments in mobilizing research with the potential to inform social, health, and education policy/practice. Universities and other publicly funded research institutions would need to make efforts to connect researchers to practitioners and policy makers. This happens at an individual researcher level. It also happens in large scale discipline specific organizations such as the
National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research in the US and the Social Care Institute for Excellence in the UK. The University of Texas School of Public Health has the Research Into Action project. Like Canada’s RIR network, a social Bayh Dole Act would require that universities invest in an institutional capacity for knowledge translation/mobilization units the way they currently do for technology translation.  A social Bayh Dole Act would seek to derive public benefits from public investments in research.

Canada does this by nature. The US can do this by legislation. I look forward to developing these ideas further at the conference in Atlanta with Stephen, Pimjai, and Rick.


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Bridging the Knowledge Translation Divide

by Rick Austin June 23, 2011 02:32 PM

I had a wonderful phone conversation yesterday with David Phipps from ResearchImpact, and Pimjai Sudsawad from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research at the U.S. Department of Education. They’re both going to be on our panel at this year’s CDC social marketing conference, August 9-11 in Atlanta.


David will take the position that, in the area of public health research, Canadian knowledge translation efforts are far ahead of the United States, and Pimjai will argue with him about whether the Canadian system would even work here.


We’ve come up with our own ideas about the most important topics to debate, but we’d love to hear from you, too. Tell us in the comments what topics we should cover during the panel, and start thinking about the questions you’d like to ask these two. David and I have already talked about staging a Twitter chat during the panel session.


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